Tag Archives: community

Working Together to Support Syrian Refugees!

On the evening of November 23 we joined with the Vineland UM Church to help make hygiene kits for Syrian Refugees.  Over 300 kits were made and will start shipping out right away!


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MCEC Annual Gathering 2016

At the end of April, delegates and representatives from Mennonite churches across Ontario and all of the eastern Canadian provinces gathered in Leamington, ON, and spent time hanging out, singing and celebrating together, and touching base on family business.

There were messages from long-established Mennonite churches on what is new in their neck of the woods, and there was time to hear from churches who are newer to the MCEC family.  There was also a lot of time spent being challenged to dream for new things, and being challenged to ask the question, “What does God have in store for us next?”

If you were unable to be at this gathering, or if you were unable to catch the livestream online during the event, check out this page for links to videos that cover many different aspects of the weekend together: https://mcec.ca/annual-church-gathering-highlights

Definitely check out the videos from Stuart Murray and Alex Ellish on Finding God in my Neighbourhood!

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7 Ways to Respond to Nov. 13th

It took only a matter of hours, if not minutes, for the world to know that terror attacks had taken place in Paris this past weekend, and if you’re like me, you have likely been inundated with numerous Facebook updates, tweets, news articles, and interviews regarding this horrible series of events. Often when we are flooded with so much detail, our response can become despair, cynicism, or an equal response of hate for what has occurred.

The attacks in Paris were traumatic; and in many ways, we could respond with anger, violence, despair, or cynicism unless we can discuss and discern a way to respond that follows and embodies Christ and gives us direction as a church.

I am personally thankful that this is not the first time that as the church, we have seen suffering. For centuries, the church has lived with those who suffer and cried with those suffer, and so I would like to suggest 7 ways to respond to this past Friday that I think come from our long tradition of peacemaking and responding to pain and suffering as Jesus does:


  1. Mourn – (Matt. 5: 4) Remember the loss of innocent lives that took place this past Friday. Mourn for their families that survive them. Mourn that the few individuals who committed these terror attacks believed violence (and particularly violence against strangers) was the only answer to their pain. Mourn also the violence that takes place on a regular basis in many parts of the world (ie. Beirut, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, etc.). Mourn the times when we ourselves have been violent.
  2. Create space for people to cry – Allow people to express their pain at seeing the events of violence. We do not heal if we judge people for honestly expressing their pain and anger.
  3. Be patient – (Rom. 12: 12) The instinctual response to trauma is to do something. We think to ourselves, “Don’t just sit there and do nothing!” But we must resist the temptation to do something just for the sake of action. Too often when we respond quickly and out of pain, fear, and anger, we end up perpetuating thoughtless pain, fear, and anger. The Paris attacks took place not even 72 hours before this blog was posted. There is time to discern truth and an appropriate response to events.
  4. Resist fear and hate – (Rom. 12: 9) When we are faced with fear and hate, we believe it must be met with equal fear and hate. Terrorism does not attempt to achieve the practical defeat of an enemy. Its purpose is to sow fear, hate, anger, and violence as a response. When we respond with fear, hate, anger, and violence, we have fulfilled what terrorism hoped to achieve.
  5. Look for love – (Rom. 12: 21) Only good can overcome evil. Hate is a cycle, and sometimes the only way to break a cycle is to give it a different kind of fuel. How can we break the cycle of hate by fuelling it with love? What can we do that refuses to give in to hate and stands for hope amidst the darkness of fear?
  6. Work for peace – (Rom. 12: 17-19) Align with those who suffer. Terror thrives on the perpetuation of violence and hateful acts. When we respond with violence, it is too often used to justify further violence: “See? We told you these people were decadent and violent!” We take away the impetus for terror when we show that we will only respond in acts of peace; especially when we extend those acts of peace to our enemies.
  7. Pray – Prayer gives us the quiet space to actually listen to God, and it reminds us that our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual forces in our world that can influence us to make destructive choices (Eph. 6: 12). We do not live in a universe where God sits back and watches the events of history unfold. He is active in our world and actively partners with us to be His body in the world (I Cor. 12: 27). Pray that God would show us His heart in the midst of this tragedy. Pray that God would give us direction. We also pray for our enemies that we might disarm the logic they use to commit these acts of violence; that they may turn from hate; and that peace would truly be made when they are no longer our enemies.


Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” – A Christmas Sermon for Peace, Dec. 24. 1967

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February 16 Sermon Preview

In his booklet, What is an Anabaptist Christian?, Palmer Becker claims that our tradition’s second core value is “Community is the centre of our life.”  (First core value is “Jesus is the centre of our faith”.)

According to Palmer, this means that “forgiveness is essential for community, the scriptures are interpreted in community, and community is experienced in face-to-face groups.”

Of course, when Palmer and the Anabaptists talk about “community,” they have in mind the church.  How do we understand church?  Is it something that we “attend?”  Or is it something that we “are?”

This Sunday we will reflect on the church as a community in which the diversity that members bring, if valued and utilized, can be a source of encouragement and a guide for faithfulness.

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My last post

With a title like that, I feel I should have bugle music in the background!  Yes, the time has come for me to write my last post for this blog, because this Sunday is my last service as minister at The First Mennonite Church in Vineland.

When I was called to this church as pastor, we had an “installation” service.  So I guess this means that I am being “uninstalled” this Sunday.  I’m not sure those words really fit, because it sounds too impersonal, sort of like furniture or an appliance.

The theme I’ve chosen for this Sunday is “Letting Go”.   I am “letting go” of my role as pastor here which frees the space for a new minister to come, and you are “letting go” of me, so that I am free to leave, and minister in other places.

I let go of writing this blog, which allows someone else’s voice a space, I let go of preaching, pastoring, administrating…   And so it’s a transition time.  Transitions are tough.  It’s often in transitions that we realize how much we need God’s help and guidance.  God leads us from ending to beginning, from here to there, from this to that.  God shows us the way.

I am entirely confident in God’s leading into the future.   Blessings to First Mennonite and all the people here, I have been so blessed to be a part of this community.  I have seen God’s face here in your faces, experienced God’s love through your love.

This week’s prayer is an old Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Carol Penner

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This old house

When I tore up the rug off the stairway at home to replace it in preparation for selling our house, I got a surprise.  There was a note there under the underpadding.  It read, “This carpet was put down by Carol and Katie and Alex in 1999” and each of us signed our name.    Now there’s a new carpet on the stairs.  I didn’t leave a note this time.

And then yesterday  I was cleaning the patio.  There’s a piece of cement that has our family handprints in it.  On a different part of the patio there is another handprint with the date 1908 written in the cement. 

Time goes by, we have spent time fixing up this old house, but it’s not ours to keep forever.  It was here before I was born, sheltering families, and it will be here after I am gone, sheltering people not yet born.

The church is the house of God, it’s a place where people come to meet God and meet each other.    It’s easy to think about “my church” and have a wish list of the ten most great things I’d like to see in my own personal church.

But that’s not what church is about.  This is God’s house, and we get to live in it for a short time.  What will we make of the time?

This week’s prayer:  Thank you for letting us be a part of your church in this time and this place.  Bless our discussions about the nature of First Mennonite.

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What’s in a name?

Becky was a girl the same age as me, we grew up in the same church.  I never got to know her.  Becky was different.  She didn’t go to school with the rest of us, and she never attended Sunday school or girls’ club or youth group.  I saw her in church sometimes, and I knew her name, but I never got to know her.

A girl like Becky was called mentally retarded when I was growing up.  She went to a special school for mentally retarded people.  “Normal” kids never met “mentally retarded kids”, even in church, because they weren’t expected to be part of our world.  They had their own world, that included their family and their special institutions.  How did Becky feel about it?  How did their family feel about it?

The label “mentally retarded” is now seen as a negative term; even though it was created in the early 20th century as a positive term to replace negative labels such as “idiot” or “moron”.  But now we hear  people say “That’s retarded” as a put-down; new terms were needed.   People with special needs, people with intellectual disabilities, people who are developmentally delayed.  There are all sorts of terms.

Terms are important, but more important are actions.  How do we include all kinds of people in our church community?  How loving can we be?

Bethesda is a local organization run by the Mennonite Brethren Church that specializes in supporting families that face challenges, whether because they have a member with autism or developmental disabilities.  Our service this Sunday will be about hope, and our speaker is Mike Gilmore, the chaplain at Bethesda; he will be bringing a number of guests to our church.

I wonder how my life might have been different if Becky was born into my family, or if I was Becky?  God’s love would be the same for me, would the community’s love be the same?

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